It seems to me that fear is more basic than the emotions. It comes from our basic confusion. Fear touches on the most basic aspect of the human dilemma: “How do we live in an uncertain world?” We understand this when we sit to practice. We don’t really know what to do with our experience. We either get lost in our thoughts or try to suppress them. Somehow, we can’t find our resting place with the energy and expression of our mind. It can feel overwhelming – scary. … So we can say that, due to our inability to relax around experience, we contract in fear or get lost in our confusion. It says in the teachings that this “overwhelm” causes us to cling tightly. This experience of clinging tightly is what we misunderstand as the self. We continue to look for stability and security, and yet the world (our inner and outer worlds) is not a static situation. What we experience as a self, we could say, is a continued desire for happiness and freedom from suffering. The problem we have is that there is so much bewilderment around our experience and not knowing what to do with it, we contract out of fear…..There is panic, which is a frozen, very physical, sensation. Our breath gets shallow. We feel like life is something happening to us, rather than feeling a part of the bigness of life.
But however contracted we get, life continues to flow.…no matter how tightly we hold on. We can’t separate ourselves from life. Even a fortress is part of life. And even as a fortress we are still in relationship with life and our mind. That we are part of the great interdependence of life means that actually, we are very, very big – infinite, in fact. So the purpose of practice is to find our true relationship with life, rather than contract. Trying to create security in a world that is fluid is a good definition of pain/samsara. The purpose is to value life and let it touch us and change us – so that we can be as fluid as life, which is a poignant and beautiful, freeing and emboldening experience.
Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, Moving Beyond Fear